I’m writing this on a Sunday evening while watching playoff hockey waiting for Game of Thrones to start and trying to figure out why our dog has become endlessly fascinated by a piece of paper on an end table. In short, it’s a lovely evening and I’m happy that I get to do this.
I bring this up because as the weekend winds down, people are lamenting the fact that they “have to” go to work tomorrow. (Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds.) And thus we are confronted by the dichotomy all employees deal with at work – what they “get to do” vs. what they “have to do.”
“Have to” is all the work employees tend to complain about – answering emails, attending recurring meetings, data entry, making phones calls, paying invoices…all the tasks that fulfill the basic functions of their job descriptions.
In short, “have to” is the work we get paid for, “get to” is the work that engages us.
What’s interesting is how quickly the “get to” turns into “have to” for so many employees. What was once new and exciting gets absorbed into the background as just another thing you work on in your job.
This phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation, if you must be specific) and refers to our singular ability to return to a relative level of happiness (or unhappiness) following a positive or negative event in our lives. Basically, if you’re a happy person, you’ll still be a happy person even after undergoing a setback. But if you’re a negative person, you’ll still be a negative person even if you win the lottery.
Let’s apply this to work. If you (generally) like your job, the “have to” doesn’t bring you down too much. The “get to” is a nice perk, but you don’t really need it because you’re already in a good place. Chances are, you’re probably more engaged (or at least satisfied – NOT THE SAME THING) than the average person. If you (generally) chafe against your job, the “get to” won’t be enough to change your tune.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Work will feel less “have to” if you find ways to help you reach your long term goals. Working an office day job but really want to be an agent? Look at your internal relationship building as honing your networking skills.
- Take control of your “have to”: Be efficient and work your way through your “have to” list every day so it doesn’t weigh on you. Talk to your boss about restructuring your “have to” if you’re approaching burnout. One of the reasons “have to” brings us down is because we don’t have control over it. Try to get some.
- Think of the “get to” as a reward, not a right: Remember, “get to” is development and growth. It’s not something that you should take for granted or sit back and wait for it to come to you. Be proactive and ask for the “get to”. Now it’s something you’ve earned, which can extend your happiness about the “get to.”
- Check your attitude: Granted, people will land somewhere on the spectrum between Pippi Longstocking and Chicken Little, and it’s okay to know who you are. But if you find yourself unable to appreciate the “get to” in your life, find out why. Maybe you need more sleep, maybe you need some perspective, maybe you need therapy. Whatever it is, figure it out.
The reality is that the “have to” work will never ever go away. The trick is to find enough “get to” work to keep it interesting.
And try to have a good week, everyone!